Mr. Lin's Kung Fu Action Movie Pimp Taxi!
So, all I tend to hear from other expats is - the fact that taxis in Taiwan (at least in the cities) are cheap by Western standards, convenient and ubiquitous notwithstanding - mocking of taxi drivers, or a litany of complaints detailing why they dislike them. They play annoying music, they take routes that cost more money, they are terrible or unsafe drivers, they smell. Lucy even shot one for not speaking English!
From Taiwanese, I often just hear that a.) taxi drivers are often ex-convicts who couldn't get another job, or b.) you shouldn't trust them, especially if you're a lone woman, especially late at night. Or I hear from both that they are unsafe drivers.
Okay. They can be very unsafe drivers and sometimes the taxis have a bit of an unwashed-body twang to them. I'll give you that.
But I like them. I really do. Urban Taiwan is Urban Taiwan in part because of the taxis, which I use as a stopgap between not owning (and not wanting to own) my own transportation, and public transportation. If I need to go somewhere that would be far easier to get to in a car, I take a taxi. I treat it like my own on-call Zipcar-with-driver service.
- A part of why I like them is that it's one more way in which Taipei has freed me from having to drive, which I don't enjoy. I don't mind it in rural areas or on quiet suburban roads, but city driving, or even built-up suburb driving, drives me up a wall (pun intended). Open-access highways are the worst, but narrow city streets, many of which are one-way, with difficult-to-navigate "turn only" or "no it's the next turn, but now you're in this lane so you have to turn" roads, are only narrowly the second-worst, and massive highways full of passing cars and "quick get over a lane, our exit is coming" or "the on-ramp lane is about to end - merge! merge!" highways are just as bad. Basically if it involves driving around other drivers, I hate it. So taxis are automatically better than Zipcars because in one, I don't have to drive. So having my own on-call taxi service, that is, one I can actually afford (ever taken a taxi even in an urban area in the USA? There's a reason why locals generally don't and it involves their wallet) is one of the best things about Taipei life.
- They tend to be chatty, and I'm chatty. With a little effort you can get them off the usual "how long have you been in Taiwan? You speak such good Chinese. Where are you from?" track and onto more interesting topics. They tend to be pretty open with their opinions, too, so it's not hard generally to hear their opinions on sensitive issues, including political issues. They tend to lean a certain way politically so their opinions are not varied, but they are usually very entertainingly given. It's great for learning new ways to insult Ma Ying-jiu. I have had some fascinating conversations in taxis, and gotten good recommendations to boot.
- You get some very interesting decorations. Taxi Chic that I love includes dashboards that have been turned into, basically, little temples with swinging amulets and idols and bronze Buddhas and occasionally actual incense, or the Pimp Taxi as above, or Nightclub Taxi with the purple LEDs along the floor, or Macrame Taxi with the wooden bead seat covers. And the best one of all - the time I took a taxi where the guy had covered the entire inside - I don't just mean the dashboard or something, I mean the inside doors, the backs of seats, the ceiling, everything - in the semi-transparent plastic tops from soft drink takeaway cups, which were layered over LEDs connected to a self-rigged power source (which couldn't have been safe...) that blinked in random patterns. The windows and other glass surfaces, except for ones he needed to see out of - were decorated with carefully layered brown duct tape and clear packing tape in Mondrian-reminsicent geometrical art shapes. It was really a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
- I can't speak for safety statistics overall, but I have never felt in danger from a taxi driver in Taiwan. Once, I left my purse (which had my passport in it as well as my wallet and other important items) in a taxi. Someone helped me call the broadcast station that would reach taxi drivers. By the next day, my purse was turned in to the police, and I could go down to the central station and pick it up. Everything was there, including the cash. Another time, Brendan left his phone in a taxi, the day before we were to leave for Shanghai and then the USA. We called him and he eventually was able to get back to us. Through a friend's help (as we were out of the country), the phone returned before we did.
- It is probably true that a high proportion of taxi drivers are ex-cons or other people who've been shafted by society. But, hey, they're working a job to earn money rather than resorting (or re-resorting) to petty crime to get by. Whatever they did before, what they are doing now is legit and they don't deserve to get made fun of for that.
- I actually kind of like schmaltzy Taiwanese language pop from the mid-twentieth century. I don't listen to it at home or for fun (although 流浪到淡水 is on my playlist - I'm trying to learn it for KTV) but I enjoy it when it's around. I don't get a lot of exposure to Taiwanese - a language I am trying through slow osmosis to pick up, to some degree - in Taipei. So I'm grateful for what I do get.
So, come on, although I won't deny that they disobey traffic laws and their cars are fairly likely to smell (I've heard a lot are actually homeless and sleep in their taxis at night the way a lot of rickshaw drivers do in other countries), let's give Taiwanese taxi drivers a break.
Anyway, I like 'em.